UWS Greek restaurant prematurely touts ‘authenticity’
- Last Updated: 6:19 PM, March 21, 2012
- Posted: 10:50 PM, March 20, 2012
208 W. 70th St. 212-875-8600
‘The recipe comes from a monastery,” Maria Loi said when we praised her namesake new restaurant’s sweet and fleshy lavraki (sea bass), smartly grilled with tomato, thyme, capers and onions.
But it might have come from the playbook of 100 New York chefs plying the overcrowded Mediterranean-Aegean waters. Loi is a welcome Greek addition to the Upper West Side — but its hype machine makes you want to hop the N train to Astoria and not look back.
Loi, the blond, fiercely smiling “Martha Stewart of Greece,” has been relentlessly preaching her gospel of “authenticity” in the name of a simple, sunny cuisine which — in its monotonous New York permutation — can do with less fidelity to the real thing. (Complaints: e-mail below.)
Take away Maria, call the place at the old Compass site Aegean Idyll or something like it, and this would be another mixed-results Greek eatery too expensive for online-whining cheapskates. The boxy room is still mainly owned by the team as during Compass’ gazillion changes of concept, chef, color and even name — remember Marika?
And even with co-owner Maria Loi’s cheerful presence, it still looks and feels like Compass tweaked by new striped chairs, flourishes of isle-ish white, and sea images on a wall. It’s blessedly comfortable — maybe too comfy for a neighborhood that prefers painful overcrowding, as at packed Cafe Luxembourg next door.
And Loi is maybe also too precious for a rustic menu strong on rice, beans and rooster. Managers in dark suits, white shirts and ties prowl like morticians, butting in to assess your “liking.” So does Loi, smiling.
Greek cuisine enjoys a refined turn at Periyali and at the fish-by-the-pound school pioneered by Estiatorio Milos.
But Loi has a way to go to catch up. Except for glorious bread (olive, pita and kalaokisio cornbread), early meals ranged between mediocre and awful. Calamari in petroleum-thick goo suggested Maria Loi’s pre-“Martha” days as a lobbyist for Texaco, a career hallmark weirdly touted in her p.r. material.
Over-roasted lemon chicken (kotopoulo) was as parched as a diner’s, and shellfish yuvetsi took the form of gummy orzo cemented inside a black pan.
Recent improvement has been remarkable. Shredded wheat-wrapped grilled shrimp recalled the sweet, “hooded” ones at prematurely shuttered Biltmore Room. Tender, braised lamb shank amid polenta-like anthotiro pasta was a steal for $26.
The kitchen has its braising down, especially in kokoras krasatos — deep-flavored rooster (capon) in red wine sauce, peeling easily from the bone.
On the other hand, pastitsio gave a convincing impersonation of a brick; “crispy” sweetbreads were anything but; and a miserly pair of head-on baked prawns for $34 delivered about $24 of joy.
For dessert, honey-drizzled baklava arrived firm and well spiced. The unpronounceable vanilla and phyllo dough affair called galaktoboureco — “We practiced it,” our waitress chuckled — lacked for crunch or texture of any kind. Loi can use more practice in the kitchen. Judging by recent strides, it would be worth the trouble. Just forget being too “authentic.”